I’ve titled this entry “A Death in the Family: Part 1” because while my grandfather died yesterday, several of the older members of our family are facing the twilight of their own lives, and I figured I’ll be writing about their deaths in the coming years.

My grandfather, Ronald Skipper, retired after 20+ years in the U.S. Air Force.  One of those guys who could never sit still, he went to work for the U.S. Postal Service as a mechanic.

He retired from that job after a whole bunch of years, too.

The last few weeks have been taken up with worry that my other grandfather, my grandmother’s first husband, was not long for the world.  At 89, a serious fall and a few heart irregularities had him ensconced in P.C.U. at a hospital in New Hampshire, where they spend the hot summers.  It looked like he would not be returning to Florida for any more winters.

But then his condition improved and his desire to “get the hell out of this hospital” returned.

So when the call came that my other grandfather (my father’s longtime stepfather) had died, we were a bit shocked.

Grandpa Skipper (called by his last name to separate him from all the other grandparents in my oft-divorced family) had suffered from Alzheimer’s for the last few years.  In hindsight, Grandma Skipper remembers issues from even five or six years ago that might have been warning signs.

Recently diagnosed as being in the sixth of seven stages, he was receiving hospice care in his home.  And while we all knew he would only live a few more months or years, we also believed that the hospice care he was receiving was more a benefit for my grandmother, his 24-hour caregiver, than for him.

When I last saw him, I walked away with the mental picture of a handprint on a cold metal surface.  The warm hand is there, in vibrant relief against the stark metal.  But when the hand is pulled away, there’s a “ghost” image of the hand.  Sometimes you can make out individual handprint lines.  And as the warmed metal quickly cools, the handprint gets skinnier and simply vanishes.

That was my grandpa.  So the phrase “Your grandfather died this morning” was less shocking than it should have been.

As an avid reader, I find myself using a lot of good and some not-so-great metaphors to describe the end of life.  But here’s my favorite.

Every story ends.  If it didn’t, you’d never know when to move on the the next story.  We read stories to get to the end. 

And while some stories don’t know when to stop (we all remember a book or movie that was 20 minutes or 100 pages too long) and many stories seem too short, the end of each gives us time to reflect and review.

Frankly, my grandfather’s story was ending.  We knew it.  It ended earlier than we wanted, but fifty more pages would have only detailed more suffering for him and his caretaker.

By allowing that particular story to end, the universe allows my grandmother’s final chapters to be extended.  Because we all agreed that the physical and emotional toll his prolonged illness was taking on her was too high.

So we’ll get together, reminisce about the good old days, tell a few of his favorite jokes and bury a patriarch.

An honorable way to spend the weekend.

By the way, this might keep me from posting a lot here.  I’m sure you understand.

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